By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - The leader of an Amish splinter group who faces hate crimes charges over accusations he masterminded a series of beard-cutting attacks coerced a daughter-in-law into having sex with him on the pretext she needed "sexual counseling," the woman testified on Thursday.

Samuel Mullet Sr. and 15 other sect members are accused of planning or carrying out attacks on nine Amish men and women last autumn in southeastern Ohio, cutting off their hair and beards in assaults meant to humiliate the victims.

Witnesses have testified the attacks were revenge for a dispute between Mullet and other Amish religious leaders for accepting the daughter-in-law's family and others into their communities after he shunned them. That followed their departure from his group over actions such as those described by the daughter-in-law.

Amish men and women refrain from cutting their hair as a mark of respect for God.

Mullet, 66, was not present at any of the assaults by his followers, but is accused of being the ringleader of the attacks.

Before her testimony, Judge Dan Polster told the jury Mullet was not charged with any sex crimes and the testimony of the daughter-in-law was to be considered only in relation to the charges he does face.

The daughter-in-law testified that the sect leader demanded that she hug him, kiss him and sit on his lap to save her marriage to his son, who was hospitalized for a mental breakdown in 2008. Reuters does not identify the victims of sexual assault.

She also said Mullet had told other women in the sect that having sexual relations with him would "save their marriages" and he had told her she must stay in his home or the devil would get a hold of her.

While she was staying in his home, Mullet told her that being intimate with him would help her husband get better, she testified.

"I woke up in the middle of the night and a lady said, 'Sam wants you to go down to his bedroom,'" she said of one request she received while staying at his house in 2008.

"I did not want to, but I always gave up," she said. "I was afraid not to."

The daughter-in-law, her husband Eli Mullet, and their six children fled the Amish Bergholtz community later that year after Samuel Mullet Sr. complained that he did not understand why she would not obey him "like the other ladies do."

They left with only a few suitcases and their children, she said.

Earlier Thursday in separate testimony, Samuel Mullet Sr.'s sister, Barbara Miller, called her brother a cult leader. Miller testified on Wednesday that she had her waist-length hair shorn in an attack by his followers.

When a defense attorney asked for her definition of a cult, Miller said that in a cult, "The leader is allowed to choose wives he wants and everyone goes along with it."

The 16 defendants are charged with 10 counts including a federal hate crime, conspiracy and obstruction. They face up to life in prison if convicted. The trial is expected to run three to four weeks.

(Editing by David Bailey and Eric Walsh)